Paducah
for my father
As though only from within the gaps,
the circular enclosures, interstices,
staves, and serifs, twenty-odd letters or so,
also diphthongs, digraphs, and blends blended
in an utterance that seemed entirely 
and only vowels, but for certain minimal ticks,

bi-labials and thin fricatives, the enunciations
of dust from a distance, from up close
the pale and weightless declarations
of fog.  Only now and then a syllable
half-discerned and rarer still a word
heard as a known symbol and signifier,

usually goddam or son-of-a-bitch,
as noun, adjective, adverb, or interjection.
He was telling us, or himself, a story,
a narrative certain inflections of which
suggested one of us ought to nod or respond
with our own interjection, with a wow

or a really, a then what or a what then, 
although eventually, his attention as he spoke
lit upon the back of his left hand,
and it seemed the son-of-a-bitch
in question was that very goddam appendage,
the color of a scab beneath the thin skin

he’d rapped against the wall in a recent fall.
A series of long oos and uhs then,
a diphthong oy, all of which were interlarded 
with vaporous, unboned, mostly horizontal, 
unlipped and toothless whisperthin 
phantoms of consonants, as though what we heard

were the spaces between the cars of a passing train.
Like the one he carried me up to sixty years ago,
in order that I might reach out with him
to touch as lightly as possible
each passing freight car, bound southeast 
from St. Louis, perhaps for a town in Kentucky,
whose name consisted almost entirely of vowels.
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